Saturday, February 21, 2009

New York 1924: Alexander Alekhine, King of the Attack

Born in Moscow on Halloween ( October 31) 1892, he learned to play chess by his mother, an older brother Alexei, and older sister Barbara. He played at Moscow’s chess club as a youngster with some positive results at age 15 tying 11th -13th in the club’s autumn tournament. His older brother finished 4th-6th place. But I think sibling challenge boosted him to come back and win the event in the spring of 1908 at the age of 16 ( some argue he was only 14 but the exact date of Alekhine’s birthday seems to be 1892).

I don’t wish to re-hash his entire biography in this post since I really want to focus on the New York 1924 event. This event took place 3 years prior to his title championship as 4th World Championship which was currently being held by Capablanca at this event. He holds up well against the World Champion in rounds 4 and 12 when he draws both rounds. I have to admit, I had a hard time finding inspiration in either of these games. Round 4 was a transposition to a French defense that I felt Capablanca missed an opportunity to pick up a pinned piece. Capablanca plays 5. exd4 . I have a question to all you French Defenders: What not simply play 5.e5 where it seems like it picks up a piece? Alekhine mentions nothing in the Book and I don't see a refutation.

Round 12 was even less inspiring as this Quiet handling of the Slav defense lead to early exchanges and a bishops of opposite colors game.

In all, Alexander Alekhine had 12 draws in this event. I still have to overcome my urge to over look drawn games and value the balance in the positions and look for the inner struggles that neutralized over time. It left me felling anxious to move on. Sorry. I was hoping to see more of the attacking style of this master but instead I could not help feel that because he was commissioned to write the tournament book, perhaps his focus was too much on documenting the other events.

I do see some sparks in his rather short order wins against Yates and Janowski. In round 1, Yates ignores a natural looking bishop move in the Ruy Lopez that becomes the cornerstone of exploiting the very weakness of the position on His King’s side. In round 6 he eats up material from Janowski diffusing the power of his two bishops.

Maroczy in round 2 must have been just off that game because when Alekhine plays his signature defense, he proves how not going after his knight leaves Black with a nice attack.

Reti in round 8 was off his game as he losses a tempo allowing Alekhine too strong of a position. A weakness was created on d6 became the focus of a middle game attack that further weakened his Queenside. A King’s side pawn majority in the end game traps Reti’s rook.

Position after Alekhine plays 42. Bg5
I already covered Reti’s revenge round which was the only other loss suffered by Alekhine aside from Dr. Emanual Lasker which I will cover in the last post of this series.

He finished 3rd in this strong event with a score of 12 ( 6+, 12=, 2- )

Epilogue and the Nazi controversy:

What’s a chess blog without a controversy once in a while? Ok, there has been a lot written about Alekhine’s anti-Semitic remarks during world war II. In short, there were a series of articles that appeared under Alekhine’s name in the Pariser Zeitung, a German paper published in Paris as a propaganda by the occupying forces from Germany. Among other things these articles said that Jews had a great talent for exploiting chess but showed no signs of chess artistry. He goes on to site the hypermodern theories of Aaron Nimzovitch and Reti as a “cheap bluff and shameless publicity” and that his win against Max Euwe was a “triumph agaisnt the jewish conspiracy”.

After Paris was liberated, Alekhine publicly stated that he was forced to write these in order to grant him an exit visa. He claimed to have written purely scientific artlicles evaluating the hypermodern chess movement but they were re-written by the Germans. Ken Wylde looked into the authenticity of the articles and felt there were non conclusive evidence of the authenticity of the articles. In 1958, Jacques Le Monnier claimed to have seen the first article handwritten in a notebook provided by his wife after Alekhine’s death. Ed Winter, a british chess historian makes an observation of the misspellings of the masters referenced in these articles as an indication of a possible foregery or an attempt by Alekhine to signal he was being forced to write these articles. In reading “ The Book of the New York International Chess Tournament of 1924”, there is clearly no evidence of any anit-Semiticism as he references Dr. Em. Lasker with much respect and reverence. In any case, in January 1, 2017, under current French Copy right laws, Alekhine’s notebooks will become public domain. Perhaps then, this debate will finally be settled.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New York 1924: Frank Marshall, the Gentleman Swindler

Born August 10, 1877 lived in Montreal in his formative years. He learned how to play chess at age 10 and was one of the leading players in Montreal by 1890. He didn’t make it to Hastings 1895 though he would have been 18. I think this is because he didn’t have enough international exposure despite giving William Steinitz a run for his money during an simultaneous exhibition in 1893 who remarked: “had never met an amateur of his age who had given him so much trouble,” adding also a prediction of “a brilliant future for him if he continues to play chess.”

His family moved back to New York in 1895. We really don’t see his rise until the turn of the century when he won the US championship in 1904 but never accepted the title because the defending champion, Harry Nelson Pillsbury, didn’t compete ( due to illness). In 1906 Pillsbury died and Marshall again refused the championship title until he won it in competition in 1909.

He took some thrashings from Capablanca and Dr. Lasker during this period but I think it only made him stronger. He came back strong in 1914 at St. Petersburg finishing fifth ahead of players like Nimzovitch, Janowski, and Rubenstein.

He filled a void in American Chess after Pillsbury death. He started the Marshall Chess Club in 1915.

He got a reputation as a Swindler for several come from behind wins. I always like an underdog story because it rings close to home. At New York 1924, his reputation made his stronger opponents more cautious. Take his draws against Alekhine in rounds 7 and Round 20. Alekhine comes out and admits to being cautious in round 20 and “not accepting a Grecian gift” and later giving back material after Marshall’s positional sacrifice in the game. Alekhine’s only salvage was to provide a perpetual check.

He draws Capablanca twice in rounds 10 and 16 with the former champion. Marshall demonstrates he’s an equal match in the Capablanca’s endgame especially in the game in round 10 where, despite being down a pawn in the endgame, Marshall is able to hold on for the draw.

The game I want to go into detail is the one that gave him a Brilliancy prize at the event in the round 18 Marshall versus Bogoljubow game. ( Note: AA means remarks by alexander Alekhine from the tournament book)

(89) Marshall,F - Bogoljubow,E [D52]
New York New York (18), 03.1924


Key Points:
1) The Spirit of Pillsbury is in this game
2) Bogoljubow appeared to not play well cooredinated.
3) Marshall plays a strong central attack and aggressively goes after the weakened King's side
4) Offering both his rooks, Marshall's Queen and Bishop prove deadly on the weak king.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 Marshall plays in the spirit of Pillsbury. 3...d5 4.e3 Nbd7 5.c4 c6 Bogoljubow plays a Slav-Meran defense. The c6 move actually prepares movement for the Queen to attack White's vulnerable b-pawn and Queen's side.6.cxd5 exd5 7.Nc3 Qa5 AA: The beginning of Bogoljubow's demise. Better ( according to Alekhine) is: [7...Be7 8.Bd3 Ne4 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Bxe4 dxe4 11.Nd2 Nf6 12.Qc2 Bf5 13.0–0 0–0 14.f3 Rfe8] 8.Bd3 Taking care of e4 is important. Unless Black plays Bb4 this is important. 8...Ne4 9.Qc2 Nxg5 10.Nxg5 h6 (Diagram)

AA: Unnecessarily weakens the King's position. [AA: worse is his line: 10...Be7 11.Nxh7 g6 12.Bxg6 fxg6 13.Qxg6+ Kd8 14.Ng5 Bxg5 15.Qxg5+ Kc7 16.h4; AA: More solid: 10...Nf6 11.0–0 Be7] 11.Nf3 Be7 Stronger would have been to play the bishop to b4.

But Bogoljubow appears to want to hold on to a bishop pair.AA: Why not Bd6? 12.0–0 0–0 13.a3 Qd8 14.Rae1 This was hard to see. Why does Marshall play the Queen's rook here and not on the semi-open c-file or set up a minority attack with Rab1? He's preparing to push the f-pawn and wants rooks on both e- and f-files.

14...a5 Looks like a little preventative for the possible Minority attack. But Alekhine says " Loss of tempo, no need for prevention here" 15.Qe2 Nf6 AA: Still would like to see Bd6 ( been pushing this for the last three moves as saving Bogo's position.) 16.Ne5 Again, in true Pillsbury style, Marshall plays to e5. a strong position for the knight. 16...Bd6 17.f4 c5 18.Bb1 (diagram)

He has all the makings for a Pillsbury attack and plays this preventative move to keep the pressure on the diagonal. 18...Bd7 19.Qc2 Bc6 20.dxc5 Bxc5 21.Kh1 When the f-pawn is advanced, moving the king off the a7-g1 diagonal is wise. Alekhine sees a doubel threat of e4 adn Ng4 21...Re8 (Big diagram)

22.e4! The genious behind this move is to ultimately displace Black's knight on f6.

22...Bd4 [AA: 22...dxe4 23.Nxc6 bxc6 24.Nxe4 Nxe4 25.Rxe4 Rxe4 26.Qxe4 g6 27.f5 Qd5] 23.Nxc6 bxc6 24.e5 Ng4 25.Qh7+ Kf8 26.g3 Qb6 27.Bf5
To play 27.Qh8+ right away runs the risk of the king escaping. Patching the escape hatch with Bf5 is worth the hassle White has to endure with the weak attack by Black. 27...Nf2+ 28.Rxf2 He has to take the knight with the rook. This weakens Black's attack and returns the needed initiative. [AA: 28.Kg2 Ne4 29.Nxe4 dxe4 30.Qh8+ Ke7 31.Qxg7 Qxb2+ 32.Kh1] 28...Bxf2 29.Qh8+ Ke7 30.Qxg7 Kd8 [GD: 30...Bxe1 31.Qf6+ Kf8 32.Nxd5! with mate to follow. Bogoljubow must have seen this line.] 31.Qf6+ Re7 32.e6 Bd4 Diagram [32...Bxe1 33.exf7 Bxc3 34.Qd6+ Rd7 35.f8Q#] 33.exf7 Bxf6 34.f8Q+ Kc7 35.Rxe7+ Bxe7 36.Qxa8 Kd6 37.Qh8 Qd8 38.Qe5+ Big DiagramMarshall announces Checkmate in 5. 1–0

He draws Dr. Em Lasker in round 9 with a very dynamic game as he sacs a rook to create dynamics. Lasker gets resourceful and returns the material at the right moment.
In round 15, against Reti, he drops two pawns for a killer king side attack. I could go on about this attacking player who sets up these swindles but this post is already rather long.

He held on to his US chess Champion title for 29 years until 1936 when he handed it over to Samuel Rechevsky. He was captain of the American chess teams at the first 5 Chess Olympiads. In his later years, he wrote a couple books ( MY fifty Years of Chess) and played bridge and Bingo.

On November 9, 1944, Marshall was returning home from Jersey City where he had gone for an evening of bingo. He collapsed while walking on Van Vorst Street and died. Three-hundred people attended his funeral at the Greenwich Presbyterian Church on November 13. His friend Napier said, “It seems to me that an epoch began with this man.”

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A litmus test. Blunder Vs. Count Draw-cula

We interrupt our regularly scheduled posting of New York 1924 tournament analysis to bring you this blunderful report from the trenches of club tournament games.

I haven’t posted about any of my games in a while. Rather than showcase the win I had last night that was full of central control with activity on both wings that finished with a double threat on a queen and mate threat, I’d rather walk you through one of my recent losses against a person I will nick name “Count Draw-cula” to keep his identity anonymous for this demonstration. Besides the kid I beat last night was 200 points lower rated. As satisfying as it may be to play dynamic chess and create combinations that confuse the tactically challenged, I’d rather go over this loss where both players were more equally matched.

Blunderprone Vs Count Draw-Cula

MCC January Swiss (4), This was a Queen's Indian: ( E12 as the ECO books would have it) and Rybka blasts me right away with “Unusual White 4th moves”, Whether its my games or one I am studying from the time machine, After I analyze the game I give it a “headline” and a few key points to provide a memory marker as well as grab the reader’s interest.. which is typically only me…and being easily distracted, I find this method effective in catching my attention as I multitask my way to chess improvement. ( Curse You ICC)
So the headline for this folly reads:


I out line the key points to set the mood and what to watch for:

1) White gains space on the Queen's side and Black attempts space on the King's side weakening the safety
2) An piece sacrifice was decided over a passive game.
3) The knight sacrifice was sound due to the fact that Black's King's side was weak and his queen's bishop was hemmed in.
4) When behind in pieces hold on to your material to keep the attack.

The game commenced as follows: 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nf3 b6 4.Bg5 ( Rybka didn’t like this gem though I stole it from none other than my American hero, Harry Nelson Pillsbury)
4…Bb4+ 5.Nbd2 h6 6.Bh4 (See diagram on left)
I considered Bf4 actually but I wanted to test out what the drawback was in holding on to the pin. Rybka showed me a line with the exchange that was drawish [6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.g3 Bb7 8.Bg2 0–0 9.0–0 Bxd2 10.Qxd2 d6 11.Rfc1 c5 12.b4 Rd8 ½–½ Mateo,R (2408)-Roeder,M (2413)/Santa Clara 2000/CBM] but I don't prefer to exchange at this point. I'll consider this in future outings of this opening. I realize now that the long term prospects of holding the pin at this point is useless as will be seen later that my bishop gets displaced. Truer to Pillsbury, Focusing on e5 is more thematic. Though at Hastings, Pillsbury was faced with a bishop on e7. 6...0–0 7.a3.Be7 8.e4 Expanding in the center seemed like a good plan. [8.e3 c5=] 8...Bb7 9.Bd3 d6 10.0–0 Nbd7 11.b4
(see Diagram to right)

I was looking at advancing d5 and really didn't want him to get a knight on c5 11...e5 12.d5 Kh8 A waiting move! I had the start of a Queen's side space advantage. I felt it was time to pull in a little reinforcement. Rybka sees 12...a5 13.Qc2= as equalizing for Black. 13.Rc1 Rg8 It seemed Black was preparing a King side push to open the game. But looking at the pawn formations now, I can see where he could come up with that conclusion. I wanted to limit his knight from g5 and looked at pushing g4 next so I played:14.h3 g5 15.Bg3 Nf8

This was the position I reached when I looked at the game and decided to do a piece sacrifice with 16.Nxe5 Faced with further passive action of my King's side encampment, after 20 minutes of deep thought, I decided to take this risk and play a piece sacrifice. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins as the excitement of even considering such a move. Rybka was a lot more conservative and suggests [16.c5!?±] but I was surprised that the evaluation for Black after the recapture was equality. 16...dxe5= This lead me to believe that the sacrifice was sound. 17.Bxe5 Black wins a piece but I have two bishops on key diagonals and much more active pieces. Black’s Queen’s bishop is out of play. If this were Hockey, I would have what is called a “power play” on the King’s side. 17...Ng6 18.Bc3 Nf4 19.Bb1 Ng6 20.Qh5 White has a mate threat. Yes as Fritz points out there is a mating threat. I have strong control of the diagonals and a good attack. But I screw it up.

(position after Count Draw-cula plays 20...Kh7?) I get all fetched up and misplay this position totally. I decided to forget Reubin Fine’s axiom of “ when behind pieces, exchange pawns but not pieces” and decided to commit suicide with 21.Bxf6?? Rybka blasts me with “White lets it slip away” This was not the time to simplify. The Bishops are strong and I should fight to keep them on board. Better was [21.Qf3±] 21...Bxf6 Black wins a piece and the game goes down hill from here. I lost my nerves of steel and tumbled down in a true blunderful way. 22.Nf3 Kg7 23.Rfe1 Nf4–+24.Qg4 Bc8 25.Qg3 Nh5 26.Qh2 Bb2 27.Rc2 Bxa3–+ 28.Qe5+ Qf6 29.Qxc7 Bxb4 30.e5 Qd8 31.Qc6? Bd7 32.Qxa8 Qxa8 33.e6 Bxe1 34.exf7 Bxf2+! 35.Kxf2 Rf8 36.Ne5 Bf5 37.Rc1 Bxb1 38.Rxb1 Qb8 39.Re1 Qd6 40.Re3 a5 0–1

I felt it was better to take that risk and play the piece sacrifice against a strong player, over the passive position I was about to inherit. How else am I going to learn to play difficult positions like this than a true OTB experience. I learned that my instincts were dead on! I just didn’t have the right technique when I went for the simplification on move 21. Had I played 21Qf3, the game would have been just as instructional but in a way, I think I learned more from the fall. Besides, Draw-cula only suck a total of 8 rating points after everything was done. I had some previously good rounds with nothing to lose really.

Next week I continue with the American, Frank Marshall at the New York 1924 event. I hope you didn’t might this diversion. I wanted to show you how my game is doing these days as a result of this study.
Editor's Note: Corrected the use of the term exchange sacrifice to just piece sacrifice per clarification in comments.